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Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown


The complexity of modern life means that there are lots of things competing for our attention and lots of distractions that have the potential to seduce us from our main aims. It is almost a modern epidemic for new and attractive distractions to capture our attention and this, McKeown believes is one of the largest challenges we face in modern life. We have limited energy and time and to spread those resources across too many areas is leaving us underachieving and unrewarded.

McKeown’s response then is to give us Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Essentialism is creating a habit of minimising the ‘doing unnecessary things’ which affects the quantity and quality of the things we actually need to do.

That is ‘Doing what needs to be done and no more’.

McKeown recommends that we learn to say ‘no’ to projects that do not take us towards our goals or have no use for. We have a choice and to exercise that choice should be something we make a positive habit rather than autmatically saying yes to something. Ask yourself ‘Is this a resounding yes?’ if it isn’t then it is clearly a no. Essentialism is choosing that which is the priority and nothing else. It is that simple; to say if not to do.

Reading through the book, you can extract a number of basic pronciples that are worthy of reviewing regularly if not daily:

  • Reduce your focus to a minimum of things. You only have so much time a day and to fulfil your essential purpose you should be consumed by that purpose.
  • Focus on one thing at a time – which means don’t attempt to multi-focus.
  • Develop the art of saying ‘no’ and feeling okay with it. Learn to enjoy it and be particular about what you say yes to. Do it consciously.
  • The planning fallacy (things take longer than you expect) —remember there’s real science on why you have to do less.
  • Ask yourself, “If I had a week left to live would I value this?”
  • Use a scale to measure the value and effectiveness of anything you do – Where does it  on a 10pt scale and only do the 8-10s.
  • Discern more and do less – Focus on the value and get the real results.
  • Don’t misinterpret pressure for purpose.
  • Don’t mistake effort with output.
  • Don’t comment. Join fewer calls. Attend fewer meetings.
  • Don’t confuse activity with progress.
  • New is hardly ever better or more valuable – Don’t spend effort on everything that pops up?
  • Stay on the primary contributions and real results.

What is interesting is that the book itself seems a little verbose for a text looking to demonstrate the value of ‘Essentialism’, although some additional real-life examples could increase the value to the reader.

Overall this is a book that you need to read it your are feeling overwhelmed or even if you feel that you are not getting the results you want. I’ve captured the list above in Evernote and I’m reading it everyday to help me stay focused.

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